One question is unlikely to be in VCE exams, but is top of mind for the class of 2021

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Did the class of 2020 have it tougher than the class of 2021? It’s a debate playing out on social media between final year high school students about to return to classrooms for the first time in months.

While terms one and two this year were relatively uninterrupted by coronavirus lockdowns, 19-year-old Melbourne High student Jing Wang says restrictions that pushed most term three classes online created more uncertainty for his peers than the previous cohort of year 12s.

“[Difficulty] is not measured by length of lockdown,” says Jing, who completed a year 12 subject last year while in year 11. “The one thing that I think is most disturbing for a lot of students this year is that we didn’t really have the certainty that we had last year.”

Melbourne High student Jing Wang says there’s been debate about which cohort of Year 12s had a tougher year – the class of 2020 or the class of 2021.Credit:Eddie Jim

In 2020, entire modules were thrown out of various VCE subjects to lighten the burden on students, Jing says. But when lockdowns hit at the beginning of term three this year, it was too late to do that again.

Despite the academic pressure on him and his friends, Jing is looking forward to seeing friends in person for the first time in months next week, when year 12s return to classrooms.

But feelings are mixed, says Presbyterian Ladies’ College student Vaishnavi Muddam.

“It’s much anticipated, definitely,” she says. “It was meant to be a seven-day lockdown, and it’s ended up being almost two months now.

“It’s definitely good to think that we’ll be going back for at least the last two weeks of proper learning, but it’s definitely a bit concerning with the recent spike in [COVID-19] cases.”

Vaishnavi, 18, who is completing her International Baccalaureate, is anxious about what will happen if a COVID-19 outbreak at her school disrupts final exams.

“Because it’s an international program, we’re sort of restricted to that exam schedule rather than VCE,” she says. “If we all have to go into isolation, how is that going to work?”

Presbyterian Ladies’ College student Vaishnavi Muddam is anxious about outbreaks at her school close to exams.Credit:Simon Schluter

For Alex Martin, 17, from Our Lady of Mercy College in Heidelberg, heading back to school is bittersweet. For her, missing out on social milestones has been the hardest part of 2021.

“I guess everyone had really high hopes because last year was obviously, we were in lockdown and everyone’s like, ‘well at least we’re not in year 12’,” she says.

“I’ve kind of just gone numb to it, but I feel like once we come out I’m gonna realise all we’ve missed; all these fun things like muck-up day and schoolies.

“But I’m excited to go back and have somewhat of an end because I would be upset if my last day of year 12 was just me shutting the computer and saying, ‘that’s done’.”

Monash University educational psychologist Christine Grove said milestones such as 18th birthdays, valedictory dinners, end-of-year music recitals and schoolies trips were important “protective and motivational” events for young people’s mental health, and the absence of those should not be underestimated.

“They are actually motivational and inspiring for them,” Dr Grove said.

Modelling from Melbourne-based not-for-profit mental health organisation Orygen showed the long-term mental health impacts from 2020 and 2021 on students would spike in years to come. But Dr Grove said she had seen among her own clients the resilience of final year students during the pandemic.

“These young people can bounce back and learn and grow from the pandemic,” she said. “It’s a vital part of navigating life’s ups and downs and this resilience is important to navigate throughout their whole lives.”

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